ALC Peer Review Subcommittee
December 13, 2022
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Rep Gray: All right. We’ll call this meeting to order. The chair sees a quorum. The first item is we have a supplemental agenda. Do I have a motion to take up the supplemental agenda? I have a motion. Do I have a second? I have a second. We’ll go ahead. Is there any discussion on this motion? Senator Dismang, you’re recognized.
Supplemental agenda vote
Sen Dismang: Thank you, Madam Chair. Members, we have said in this committee over and over and over again to stop bringing supplemental items to this committee. All of us have been a part of it. There is very little discussion. There’s no public notice. And we have a $30 million proposal and then another proposal here in this. I mean, at some point, enough is enough. So, again, I mean, I’m not talking about the items in particular or their merits or not their merits, but we’re at the end of the year. We can bring these items back up when we come in January and have a thorough, rightful debate with public input and a full discussion. And so with that, I’d ask that you vote against the motion to suspend, which, by the way, takes two-thirds to add this to the calendar. Thank you.
Rep Gray: Senator Irvin, you’re recognized.
Sen Irvin: I’m going to agree with Senator Dismang based on the comments he made, 100% in full agreement. We need to be intentional about what we’re doing. We need to understand the needs across the entire state of Arkansas. And when we’re piecemealing this together, it just doesn’t look right. And it looks like it’s because of influence or whatever. I’m not quite sure what that is. But there’s a difference between need– I know for a fact there are entities in the State of Arkansas that do need, that met eligibility that are not on this list. And I have no idea why. There’s been no communication to us. There’s been no communication back to me as a senator who represents a portion of the State of Arkansas, when I’ve been asked from my constituents about different things. I don’t see them on this list. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that’s the way we’re supposed to be doing business here. That’s not appropriate. And it’s not intentional. And it’s not, for me, good stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars when you are bringing things before us that are piecemealed, that are not intentional about what we’re trying to accomplish, as a State of Arkansas, with these funds. We have said this over and over and over again. There is no plan. There is no intentionality about it. There are no goals that we’re trying to meet. There is no accountability whether this is needed or not. It’s not fully vetted. There’s no public notice. It is short notice. Let’s slam it through, and it’s just inappropriate. It’s not good stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars when you do it this way. So I will be a no.
Rep Gray: All right. Seeing no other discussion, we’ll go to a vote as to whether or not to adopt the supplemental agenda. All in favor, aye.
Peer Committee: Aye.
Rep Gray: All opposed, nay.
Peer Committee: No.
Rep Gray: I say the noes have it. It is not adopted. Do I see three hands? I only see two. Okay, three hands. Please call the roll.
BLR Staff: Starting with the House, Lane Jean. Representative Lane Jean. Representative Gary Deffenbaugh. Representative Gary Deffenbaugh. Not hearing Representative Deffenbaugh, going to Representative Megan Godfrey. Representative Ken Bragg. Represent Bragg is aye. Representative Charlene Fite. Representative Fite is aye. Representative Kenneth Ferguson. Representative Ferguson is aye. Representative Vaught. Representative Vaught is aye. Representative Jeff Wardlaw. Representative Wardlaw’s aye. Representative Dotson. Representative Dotson is no. Moving to the Senate, we have first is Senator Keith Ingram. Senator Larry Teague. Senator Linda Chesterfield. Not hearing Senator Chesterfield, moving to her alternate Senator Clarke Tucker. Senator Bill Sample. Not hearing Senator Sample, moving to the alternate Senator Ben Gilmore. Senator Ronald Caldwell. Senator Caldwell’s aye. Senator Jimmy Hickey, Jr. Senator Hickey’s aye. Senator Scott Flippo. Senator Flippo is no. Senator Irvin. Senator Irvin is no. Senator Rice. Senator Rice is no.
Rep Gray: All right, members, two-thirds of the quorum was reached, and therefore, the supplemental agenda has been adopted. All right. We’ll go ahead and start with Item B, the various temporary appropriation requests.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Madam Chair. We’re in Section B. These are various temporary appropriation requests. The first item is B1, a letter from Southern Arkansas University Tech. This is a request for $482,000 in appropriation. This is to construct a burn building to be located on the campus of the Arkansas Fire Training Academy. The next item, B2, is a letter from the Department of Correction Division of Correction. It’s for $1 million in spending authority. This is to cover the purchase of capital equipment that includes– excuse me, replacement of equipment and mobile homes. Next item, B3, is a letter from the Parks Heritage and Tourism Division of Heritage. This is for $300,000 in spending authority. It’s to allow the Natural Heritage Commission to acquire land under a land and water conservation grant. The letter notes that natural gas revenue, which has exceeded expectations, will also be utilized. I’ll note that the next two items on the regular agenda are in a separate packet marked B Held. Those are items that were held over from previous meetings. And at this time, DFA has requested that we pass over those items today.
Rep Gray: All right. Thank you. Members, are there any questions on items B 1 through 3? All right. Seeing none, I’d entertain a motion to pass those items. All right. I’ve got a motion and a second. Is there any discussion? All right. All in favor, aye.
Peer Committee: Aye.
Rep Gray: Opposed, nay. Motion carries. We’ll move to item C.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Madam Chair. We’re in Section C. These are the American Rescue Plan requests. The first two requests are from agencies or institutions that receive ARP funds directly from the Federal Department. The first one is C1 on page 2. This is South Arkansas Community College. The request is for $380,000 in appropriation to spend ARP funds. This is to provide direct grants to students for emergency relief, support information technology, and campus security with wifi access points and additional security cameras, and recover lost revenue related to decreased enrollment as a result of the pandemic. The next item is on page 6. On page 6 is a request from DHS Division of Childcare. It’s for $3.7 million. This is to encourage food banks to purchase food from local socially disadvantaged farmers and producers.
Rep Gray: All right, members, that’s all of the direct federal awards. Are there any questions on the direct federal awards, Item C 1 or 2? All right. Seeing none, I’d entertain a motion to approve these items. We got a motion and a second. Is there any discussion? All right. Seeing none, all in favor aye.
Peer Committee: Aye.
Rep Gray: Opposed nay. Motion carries. We’ll move on to item C3.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Madam Chair. The next three items are awards by the Arkansas ARP Steering Committee. The first one is on page 8. So on page 8 is C3. This is Department of Commerce Economic Development Commission. The request in the agenda is for $158 million in appropriation. This is for the Arkansas Rural Connect Grant program that funds broadband infrastructure projects in unserved or underserved areas throughout the state. Additional information for this request was submitted late last week, and it was distributed to the committee Thursday evening. This additional information is included in your package as a separate attachment. It’s behind the ARP request. It’s marked C3 additional info. Since Thursday, the department has received more feedback and an additional additional packet was put on your desk this morning. The list on Thursday is for 20 projects at $135 million. The new list that you received this morning should be on your desk is for 14 projects at $93.9 million. There are also maps for each project that show the number of households impacted and the grant cost per household. That’s C3. We’re moving to C4. That’s on page 17. On page 17 of C4, this is the Administrative Office of the Courts. It’s for $20 million in appropriation. This is to build a modern court management system. According to the request, a patchwork of legacy systems are currently in use and the technologies underlying the systems have reached their limit.
BLR Staff: The next item is on page 27. On page 27 is C5, DFA Disbursing Officer. This is for $9.9 million in spending authority. This is for two related requests. The first is to Restore Victims of Crime Act Grant award recipients to the level of disbursement for funding made in 2019 to 2020. This is a two-year plan, and until the Federal VOCA Fix Act can remedy these shortfalls, it’s $4.2 million for this year. The second request is a replacement request that reduces the award to Women and Children First. In September, DFA made a request for almost $9.6 million to send funds to Women and Children First to construct a multipurpose community facility. That request was held by Peer and by ALC and has remained on hold each month since. This replacement request reduces the amount to be awarded from $9.6 million to $5.7 million. Discussion in that earlier meeting centered on other sources of funding for the construction of the facility and whether those funds would go to operations as opposed to construction. On page 29, a breakdown shows that a capital campaign, a donation from the Attorney General’s Office, and a matching Wingate Grant totals $5.5 million. Adding the steering committee’s reduced award on today’s agenda of $5.7 million will put the total for construction funds at $11.2 million. The current estimated construction-related cost of the facility is $11.2 million. Items 6 through 17 on the agenda are items that are held from a previous meeting, and so DFA has requested that we pass over those. There are two more requests from the steering committee. Those are on the supplemental agenda.
BLR Staff: So if you move to the supplemental agenda packet and you begin on page 4 of that packet. So on page 4 of the separate supplemental agenda, A1 is a request from DHS Division of Aging. This is for $30,150,000. This is to fund the Substance Abuse Prevention Plan. According to the request, the plan will enhance substance use disorder services through one-time expenditures to expand or improve access to existing services or develop into underserved areas. It’s also to enhance prevention and educational opportunities, improve physical plans and locations where services are offered, and mitigate COVID-19 through initiatives that support greater utilization of substance use disorder services. There are four providers across the eight regions of the state that are highlighted and will receive almost $11 million in funds. The remaining $19 million will be distributed through an application process with geographic coverage prioritized to ensure statewide reach. The next item is on page 10 of the supplemental agenda. On page 10 is A2. This is DFA Disbursement Officer. It’s for $6.25 million. This is to address the lack of health care in Sevier County. The county has been without an acute care hospital since 2018 after their former hospital closed due to financial hardship. Residents approved a 1-cent sales tax to build a new hospital. And so the ARP funds would be used to lease and purchase medical equipment. Madam Chair, those are all the ARP requests.
Rep Gray: All right. Thank you. So what I’d like to do is go through these just one at a time. Are there any questions on item C3, Department of Commerce? All right. If I could have someone from Department of Commerce to the table, and then Senator Dismang, you’ll be recognized.
Sen Dismang: So we’ve had a request, an update to the request, and then an update to the update of the request this morning. I mean, are we going to pass something out today that’s going to need another update? Can you walk me through what’s happening? My understanding is “from feedback.” What does that mean?
Rep Gray: And please introduce yourself for the record first.
Hudson (Commerce): Jim Hudson, Chief of Staff, Department of Commerce.
Broadband funding (ARPA)
Howie (Commerce): Glenn Howie, Director of State Broadband Office. So we are presenting to the committee today 14 projects totaling a little over $93 million and impacting a little short of 14,000 households. I guess getting to the question, the original transmittal that we provided, I guess end of last week, had an original count of about 20 projects totaling, I believe, $135 million or so total. Since that time, from the end of last week to today, we have had some providers around the state provide some questions to us regarding some of the projects. I think considering the fact that this is the first time that the State of Arkansas has run a grant round specific to broadband, that is a competitive grant round and includes an objective scoring matrix with several different criteria. I think it’s proper for us when questions are raised on some of those applications because of the way we were doing it for the first time, that we take a step back and just review them again to ensure that we are providing the committee with 100% accurate information.
Sen Dismang: But we feel confident that the 14 then that we were looking to approve today, we’re not going to have any issues, they don’t need to be rolled back? There’s not been further communications or whatever that means?
Howie (Commerce): These 14 projects that are before you at the moment are all either– there was one application for that particular project or there were several applications, but the winning application was the lowest-cost application for the taxpayers. So these 14 fit into one of those two criteria, either the only one for that project or the application winner was indeed the lowest cost to the taxpayers. So with those 14 being in that manner, we were comfortable with presenting that to you this morning.
Sen Dismang: Okay. All right. Thank you.
Howie (Commerce): You’re welcome.
Rep Gray: All right. Representative Vaught, you’re recognized.
Rep Vaught: Thank you, Madam Chair. So what about the counties that didn’t get accepted this time? Did you explain to them what they’re missing, what they need to do to bring it back, how they can better their application so that maybe they could get approved? I’m just wondering about the ones that– I mean, you alluded to, I think you said 20.
Howie (Commerce): Yes, ma’am. So I can walk through maybe holistically briefly for the committee, the process. So when we started the grant round back October 1, there were 40 projects total around the entire state that were put forth for competitive bidding. Now, we received $256 million in grant requests for $150 million available to spend. So with that being the case– actually, if you look at all 40 projects, we received at least 1 application for 36 of the 40. Okay. But because we were at a deficit of funding to fund all of them, we had to come up with a proper way that was logical and objective and rank those projects from 1 to 36 because of the ones we received. And so we did that. And then working down sort of the grant request line, we were able to hit that $150 million number. And those are the ones that we presented in the last week, the 20 that we brought forth. Again, since that time, a couple of questions were raised around the state, and wanted to take some of those back, make sure that it was– since we’re doing it the first time with scoring and competitive bidding in a different way that we’ve done it before, just wanted to be sure of those extra ones that questions were raised. So on the ones that were missing, I don’t necessarily think that anything was particularly wrong with those. It’s just a lack of funding to fund all of the ones that were brought to us.
Hudson (Commerce): Yeah, just to add to that real quickly. It’s a question of timing at this point. Those counties are going to get funded eventually. This will be the last time– I think we’ve discussed in previous committee meetings– this is the last time we’re bringing to you any projects to be funded through ARPA. We’re done with that at this point. But there is a significant amount of funding that is coming down the pike from the infrastructure bill in really a matter of a few months. And when that becomes available, we’ll be funding these projects.
Rep Vaught: Okay, so again, though, but you have reached out to those– do those counties know, the 40 that applied that didn’t receive money, do they know that there’s more funding coming and that they should reapply when the time comes? Or is there a reapplication, or does their application just lay there and wait?
Howie (Commerce): Yes, ma’am. No, we’ve worked hard with our communication efforts within the office. Everywhere that I go, we speak to the fact that we have additional funding coming down from the federal government next year with IJA, a significant amount of funding in fact. So we preach that everywhere that we go. But now I’ll make sure that we do a direct communication with those counties that were unfunded this time.
Rep Vaught: Well, since there’s 40 of them that applied, that means there’s a great need, obviously–
Howie (Commerce): A significant need.
Rep Vaught: –for us to bring more money into broadband. So that’s why I’m asking about those counties that were not awarded the funding. Thank you so much, Madam Chair.
Howie (Commerce): I appreciate that.
Rep Gray: All right, Representative Jean, you’re recognized.
Rep Jean: Thank you, Madam Chair. I’m over here. Well, along the same question, I’ve got a couple of counties that did make it and that didn’t make it. And who is Four States Fiber? Who is that? I’ve never heard of them before.
Howie (Commerce): Yeah, I believe Four States Fiber– and I want to get my facts correct– I believe Four States Fiber is a subsidiary of one of the electric cooperatives in the southwestern part of the state, I believe.
Rep Jean: Okay. And the area that I’m familiar with, Columbia County, the areas that they were filling in have no internet, no fiber service at all. And again, they are pulled down for this go around, is that correct?
Howie (Commerce): Yeah. The Columbia project was one of the six that we took down for today. Yes, sir.
Rep Jean: I was talking while you were given the first explanation. Explain why it was done again.
Hudson (Commerce): Yeah, so they just need to get reviewed a little bit further, Representative Jean. We suspect the six that we pulled down temporarily today just to do a more thorough review to make sure the right party was awarded the project. We think that’ll get resolved in the next couple of weeks, and we would expect to come back to JBC when session starts to seek approval for those six projects.
Rep Jean: And one other question, if I can. Is Four States part of Southwest Telephone or Walnut Hill Telephone? Do you remember Walnut? Okay. Those are the only two small telephone companies I know in that area. But you don’t know which one they’re tied to?
Howie (Commerce): Yeah, again, I believe it’s a subsidiary of one of the cooperatives, but I’m not sure exactly which one.
Rep Jean: Okay, all right. Okay, thank you.
Rep Gray: All right, Senator Rice, you’re recognized.
Sen Rice: Thank you. Representative Vaught asked about the unserved areas. I know we’re looking forward and trying to get all of this out as quick as we can, but sometimes what you need to know is in the rearview mirror. How much are you looking in the rearview mirror to see if what’s promised got done? I know you go slowly and check the stats of what I’m going to call it get done, but how many are successful where we put that money, such as we’ve upgraded where they already had broadband, but it’s not a very big footprint. And we’ve got a much larger footprint down these highways that have absolutely nothing, and they’re not that far out of population. How much are you looking at in the rearview mirror to put in your future awards that’s working? Are you doing any of that?
Howie (Commerce): Yeah. So one of the things that we’ll have to do with the infrastructure bill, beginning next year when that money starts to flow, we have to certify to the federal government every single unserved or underserved location in the state is connected with fiber, right? So we know that there is tremendous need. Now, areas that have nothing, right, or less than 25 by 3 are first on the list of priorities of what we have to do. Then we have to move to folks–
Sen Rice: In the future, you’re saying?
Howie (Commerce): Yes, sir. And then we have to move to folks that have something, but it’s obviously not good enough. The technical folks would say somewhere between speed of 25, 3 to 100 by 20, which means so they have something, but it’s not good enough. And those would be number two on our priority list. And then, lastly, we also have to make sure that all of our community anchor institutions across the state have access to at least a gig speed. So that’s sort of the rank order of what we have to do moving forward, and that’s how we’ll do it.
Sen Rice: Well, it sounds a little bit like to me when we got rural water. I was 7/10 of a mile from where they quit. And they quit for two years because they had the worst need population that had septic tanks too close to their wells until they could get that pot of federal money because that’s the worst people and the easiest to get the money for. And I sat there for two more years hoping I could get decent water and finally did. But I didn’t know if that was this case because sometimes it looks like money is going to places it’s not needed as bad as where other places are. You tell me help’s coming, and I appreciate that. Thank you.
Hudson (Commerce): Senator Rice. To that point, I think, for all the members, just to know, I mean, the easiest stuff and the cheapest stuff, we’ve largely done at this point, and it’s harder and more expensive from here on out.
Rep Gray: All right. Seeing no other questions, thank you. I appreciate it. TAll right, are there any questions on item C4, Administrative Office of the Courts? All right, questions on item C5, DFA Disbursing Officer. Okay, we’re going to go back to C4, Administrative Office of the Courts. If I could please have someone come to the table. I have several questions. If you could, please introduce yourself for the record, and then, Senator Dismang, you’re recognized for your question. We’re bringing another chair to the table if you want to come back.
Sullivan (Courts): I’ll call her back up if she needs.
Rep Gray: Okay, thanks.
Sullivan (Courts): Hopefully, I can answer.
Rep Gray: All right, please introduce yourselves for the record.
Sullivan (Courts): I’m Marty Sullivan. I’m the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Rogers (Courts): I’m Alex Rogers with the IT Department of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Babbitt (DFA): And I’m Andy Babbitt with DFA.
Rep Gray: All right, you’re recognized, Senator Dismang.
Sen Dismang: Thank you. The original request was, I think, twice this particular amount. My understanding, though, is and this is the only reason is just to kind of put it on record that we don’t come back here three months from now, and we say that we need another $20 million. My understanding is that if this is awarded, this is all the money that you will need to complete the system. Is that correct? Or you’ll have the rest of the money that you need to complete the system?
Sullivan (Courts): We have worked through a plan to make sure that we won’t be back here anytime soon for sure.
Sen Dismang: I’m going for, like, ever.
Sullivan (Courts): Well, I mean, I don’t know, maybe in 20 years. I mean, I won’t be–
Sen Dismang: Okay, fair enough. So maybe we’ll both be gone by then during our service times. Okay. All right. But this will fulfill whatever it is that y’all need to do in addition to whatever funds that you already have on hand. And we’re not playing a shell game and going to ask for money somewhere else to make up for a shift. I mean, this is truly what you need? And if so, just so I understand, how do we go from a $40 million– I think it was $40, to a $20 million request? We were buying a Cadillac, and now we’re going to go get an Impala or, what do we–?
Sullivan (Courts): Sure. Yeah. The original request, I think we wrote that probably a year and a half ago. And so just so you all know, we process over 1,200,000 cases a year in Arkansas State Court. So all of your constituents will show up in our state court system. So we’re talking about the case management system that holds all of these records. So I have many sleepless nights because we are constantly being attacked by foreign actors. We have the most sensitive records of citizens in the State of Arkansas, from juvenile records to individuals that are going through divorce. We have bank accounts, so we’re keeping that secure. And knock on wood, we’ve done a really good job with that. The problem here is these legacy-based systems that we have are over 20 years old, and they’re failing. And just a practical reality is individuals like you and me, we get text reminders– if we get doctor’s appointments or a dentist appointment, we get text reminders.
Sullivan (Courts): We’re able to pay on our phone for just about everything. So that’s what the citizens of Arkansas are expecting with our court system. So that’s what we’re going to be able to deliver with this investment. We’re going to do text reminders so individuals will know when their court date is. Hopefully, that will reduce failure to appear. If they have fines and fees, we’ll be able to text them that and say, “You can pay here and here’s the link to the payment portal.” So this really is the most significant funds that I think have ever been allocated for state court technology. So I appreciate– I know Senator Hickey, you’ve wore me out on this, and I appreciate you helping us on this and the same with the speaker. This really is a special opportunity for us, and I appreciate it. And it affects all 75 counties. This is truly unique. All circuit courts are on our case management system.
Sullivan (Courts): We have about 30% of the district courts. Once we get this system up and running, hopefully in the next two years, the Supreme Court will require all district courts to be on the same system. Once that happens, we’re going to see, I think, a large decrease in the theft that occurs. I know all of you hear the Leg Audit reports of theft that happens from court employees. Almost all of those are private vendors. They’re not on the state system. The state system, it’s really difficult to steal. There’s so many checks and balances in place. So this is going to allow us to get everybody on the same system. And it’s truly exciting. I mean, it’s part of our strategic plan that the Supreme Court wrote– we had a committee in 2018, and so we’re working towards that goal. So this is really going to be a lifesaver for the courts, and it’s going to help all our Arkansas, so thank you.
Sen Dismang: And so back to the blood oath, though. I mean, this is the only request that you are going to come make?
Sullivan (Courts): You have my word, Senator Dismang, that I will not be back asking for more.
Rep Gray: All right. He made sure to get that on the record.
Sullivan (Courts): He did that on the record.
Rep Gray: Senator Irvin, you’re recognized.
Sen Irvin: So last session, created a task force about fines, fees, restitution. I know the people that– it was my legislation. The people on that committee did a lot of work, had a good report. Could you discuss that as part of this, as actually being supportive of your request?
Sullivan (Courts): Absolutely. This goes hand in hand with the strategic plan that we have. A lot of the frustration with fees, costs, and fines, we get that because those are– personally, I don’t think the court system should be funded based off fees, costs, and fines. And so it is. And so I know that’s frustrating for you and your constituents. So hopefully this will be a way to track. I know one thing that you were advocating for is having a report where individuals that were coming out of prison or jail would know where all their fines are. The reason we can’t do that now–
Sen Irvin: And judges.
Sullivan (Courts): –and judges, absolutely.
Sen Irvin: Because they don’t know.
Sullivan (Courts): Because we don’t we don’t know.
Sen Irvin: And so it’s very difficult to get restitution back to the victims. Right, which is very important, particularly on human trafficking cases where there is financial penalties that we have put into place. So your victims are not getting restitution because nobody knows who owes what. And there are judges– Judge Chris Carnahan discussed this in length about the reforms that are needed. He was instrumental in passing that legislation because we have no case management system statewide, because there is no way to track it. And so judges across the state have no idea in whoever’s jurisdiction if a prisoner owes or somebody owes in this court or that court or whatever. And so there’s a lot of us that have been very familiar with the problems that exist. I mean, for me, and the reason I ask that is because we need to understand that this is a statewide project that benefits everybody across the state. You’ve actually had this request in back during the CARES money, which you were eligible to receive under CARES, but were not awarded it under CARES.
Sullivan (Courts): Correct.
Sen Irvin: So you’ve had this request for nearly two years now, is that correct?
Sullivan (Courts): Yes, ma’am.
Sen Irvin: Okay. Well, I know it has moved, and I know y’all have done a lot of building in-house. And my last question is on cybersecurity. Is a significant portion of this going to be used for cybersecurity of that system?
Sullivan (Courts): Absolutely.
Sen Irvin: And how are you going to be doing that, is it within or is there a contract with somebody that’s going to be participating in that?
Sullivan (Courts): It is within. We’re doing this all in-house. And again, I agree with everything that you said. You’re completely right. And we are working tirelessly to make sure everything is safe. I want to apologize. My IT architect, the director, tested positive for COVID, and so I’ve got a couple of people that are out sick, but I’d be happy to follow up with you anytime.
Sen Irvin: Well, as you know, we have a district court issue that I’ve discussed with you.
Sullivan (Courts): We’re meeting Wednesday about that.
Sen Irvin: Okay. I think this is a part of the problems, is because we don’t have this. Okay. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Sullivan (Courts): I inherited a lot of opportunities for improvement, and this is one of them.
Rep Gray: Representative Berry, you’re recognized.
Rep M Berry: Thank you, Chair. So is there an extended warranty with this Cadillac, or do you pay an annual fee, maintenance fee or anything?
Sullivan (Courts): We’re actually one of five or six states that are doing something that’s super innovative. We’re doing this in-house. If you look at, I think, five years ago, I was named director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. So this has been a problem for 15, 20 years. And so one of the first things that I did was I contacted other state court administrators around the United States to find out what systems they were using. Many of them, over 20 are using Tyler Technology. So the first thing that I did was invite Tyler to come to Arkansas and pitch me a system. What would it cost to give me a ballpark number? And they literally came back and gave me the number of building a new ballpark. It was $40 million. Since then, the price has gone up dramatically. North Carolina, I think, just signed a contract for $80 million to build their case management system. And this is a third-party vendor that has to bring this in and modify it. No one knows the courts better than me and my staff.
Sullivan (Courts): And so we’re building a solution in-house. There are four or five other states where we put together a consortium, and we’re doing this. And I think it’s probably one of the best-kept secrets in the state of Arkansas. And I hope it’s something that we’ll all be extremely proud of. And the system that we have right now, and this is going to go to future budget help for us. Our case management system context, it’s a system that’s just really outdated, but we pay about a million dollars a year in service contracts for this company to help maintain. I mean, it’s literally– I’m not a tech person, but we’re duct-taping the system together. And so the new build, we’re going to be able to cut the service contract of a million dollars from contacts and focus that and reinvest that $1 million a year in constant improvement. So we will own it. We will own this moving forward, which I think is remarkable.
Rep M Berry: Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Rep Gray: All right, thank you. Senator Stubblefield, you’re recognized.
Sen Stubblefield: Thank you, Madam Chair. Hey, Marty, I just want to ask one question, are you categorizing this whole system as a cybersecurity threat to our entire justice system across the state?
Sullivan (Courts): There is certainly cyber threats that we’re dealing with on a daily basis. This is an actual product that we’re building a case management system. So essentially, if you’re having filings in court, almost every county now is e-filing. During COVID, we shifted almost everything electronically. So the case management system that we’re using is extremely old, and you can ask any of your judges in your area, and they’re frustrated by it.
Sen Stubblefield: No, I agree. I look at it like it is a cybersecurity threat.
Sullivan (Courts): Absolutely.
Sen Stubblefield: Okay. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Rep Gray: All right, Representative Beatty, you’re recognized.
Rep Beatty: Thank you, Madam Chair. Just a quick question. Earlier, you mentioned the mandatory usage of this system by the district courts.
Sullivan (Courts): Yes.
Rep Beatty: Will this request of funds cover the cost of those district courts implementing this program, or will there be an additional request to cover those courts later?
Sullivan (Courts): There is no cost for our system. And that’s how we were able to get so many of the courts to come on. Many of the courts, frankly, didn’t like the system at the district court level, so they would go to the local funders, and the local fund will say, “I will pay for your local vendor to come in.” The problem with that is a lot of these local vendors, and we’ve seen this, after legislative sessions, you can’t find them. So they’re not updating the fees and the cost and the fines in their system, so they’re not accurate. And so that’s a problem. We do that on their state end. So there is no future cost for any district court to come on the state system.
Rep Beatty: Thank you.
Rep Gray: All right, thank you. Seeing no other questions, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Sullivan (Courts): Thank you.
Rep Gray: Members, I’d like to go back to C3, Department of Commerce Economic Development Commission for just one more quick question, at least. All right, Senator Dismang, you are recognized.
Sen Dismang: And this is really just so that I understand, because my major source of confusion has been the transition from projects that are originally committed to out of the Capital Projects Fund to the ARP Fund and now broadband going over to the Capital Projects Fund. I think you made a comment at some point that this will be– and I think it might have been a little bit inaccurate, but I think you said this was the last time that we were going to come and be asking for ARPA money. I mean, I think if you’re only spending $90, then there’s $60 million left that’s dedicated to broadband, roughly, right, or whatever it is. And so you’ll be making another request, but that will all be just for the bucket of capital project money out of ARPA. Is that right?
Hudson (Commerce): This is the last round that we’re going to do through ARPA. But yes, the six projects that we dropped off to do additional review, assuming that review, everything kind of comes out the way we expect it will, we’ll have those six projects that we’ll request the balance of the Capital Projects Fund money to fund those projects.
Sen Dismang: Let me make sure I understand, because I am not– again, this has confused me since the beginning. There was a Capital Projects Fund underneath ARPA, right, essentially. And we decided that we would allocate all of the balance available to us under the Capital Projects Fund to broadband. What was the amount then that we allocated to– what’s the amount available in the Capital Projects Fund?
Hudson (Commerce): Roughly $158 million.
Sen Dismang: As we stated here, we’re spending $90 [million] of it today.
Hudson (Commerce): Correct.
Sen Dismang: And you’re going to come back and ask for another request at some point to spend the remaining whatever–
Hudson (Commerce): Correct.
Sen Dismang: –68 million, whatever it may be. When you’re saying the last request, you’re bundling the things that we haven’t agreed to or not approved yet.
Hudson (Commerce): It’s a part of this round. There’s not ready for you to review them yet.
Sen Dismang: Okay, thank you. And then there’s going to be future money that’s going to be available underneath the infrastructure for broadband. And when you’re telling the other members out here that have a project that wasn’t part of the other whatever and it’s going to get funded, the anticipation is that it’s going to get funded through the infrastructure money.
Hudson (Commerce): Correct. That is correct.
Rep Gray: Okay, thank you. Senator Irvin, you’re recognized.
Sen Irvin: Of the remaining ones that dropped off that you’re revising this to, so am I understanding that there is no other applications that will be accepted, but you’ll just be reviewing those six again?
Hudson (Commerce): The ones that are already in house, that have already been submitted, they just need to be reviewed a little bit more closely to make sure that everything is as it should be.
Sen Irvin: Okay.
Hudson (Commerce): No new applications coming in at this point.
Sen Irvin: Okay. And is this an exhaustive list of all those that applied, or are there ones that submitted applications but never made it to this list?
Howie (Commerce): Yes, that list you’re looking at right now, I think it’s the one of 14 from this morning or from today. Total, there were 36 projects that received at least one application overall out of the 40 that were presented for competitive bid. So we can only fund– so going back again. So we put out 40 projects at the beginning, and then we received– 36 projects received at least one application. Some received multiple applications. And of those, we received about $256 million in total grant request funds. Because we only had $150 [million] to spend, we had to find some way to objectively sort of order them. Right. So we did that. And so those first 20 or so got us up to about $135. But then the six that were had questions from last Friday to yesterday, we went ahead and took those down just to make sure and go through our due diligence and make sure that they were accurate. But overall, we had 36 projects that received at least one application.
Hudson (Commerce): Senator Irvin, if your question is, did we give you a list of all the ISPs who applied for a particular grant? The list is the list of the recommended awardees. It doesn’t include the names of all the applicants.
Sen Irvin: Right. We have an initial list, and then we have a revised list. And so my question is, are the ones that are included on this list and not on this list the only ones that are going to be looked at it again more closely, or the ones that didn’t even make this list, did they have a chance to be looked at again more closely and included on funding?
Hudson (Commerce): Not this round. There’s just not sufficient funds for this particular round.
Sen Irvin: Okay. And just describe the process that you went through, if you don’t mind, on how you came up with how you awarded them. Just quickly.
Howie (Commerce): Yeah. So what we did was we took all the projects that came in. We used an objective scoring criteria for the first time at a statewide level. It came out to one application that was the winning application based on score. For all 36, I believe, projects that received at least one application at that point, we ranked them 1 through about 36 based upon the grant request per household of the project. So we ran through several different scenarios, and ordering them by the grant request per household in the project enabled us to serve the most households at the lowest cost to the taxpayers. And we thought that was the best way to go.
Sen Irvin: Okay. Okay. Thank you. Appreciate it.
Rep Gray: All right. Thank you. There are no other questions. So for the second time, I appreciate it.
Hudson (Commerce): We’ll be around.
Women’s shelter and domestic abuse funding
Rep Gray: All right. Thank you. All right. On C5, the Women and Children First and then replacing the VOCA funding. Are there any questions from members on item C5? All right. I have questions. If I could have someone from the DFA please come to the table. Please introduce yourselves for the record again.
McVey (DFA): Alan McVay, DFA.
Babbitt (DFA): Andy Babbitt, DFA.
Rep Gray: All right, Senator Irvin, you’re recognized.
Sen Irvin: Yes. So if you can just go through exactly what you did with this entire request and how you came about with the additional request and who they are on the VOCA funding and the Women’s and Children’s shelter. I think we just need to make sure that we’re understanding, because it’s been changed from an initial request to what it is now, and that needs to be explained.
Babbitt (DFA): Okay, sure. What we did, hearing the comments from the committee and from the domestic violence prevention organizations, we went back and we looked at the VOCA funding that these entities had received across the state. And what we saw was approximately a $4.2 million reduction from the pre-COVID levels of 2019 and then 2020 to what we dispersed in 2021 and 2022. So that’s the way we arrived at the $4.2 million. Those funds will be distributed in a fashion so that we move each entity back to their pre-COVID levels. So your local domestic violence shelter will be funded back to their pre-COVID levels in addition to all entities that receive VOCA funding.
Sen Irvin: It’s not just shelters. There are other organizations or entities.
Babbitt (DFA): Correct. Like StopDV will be a part of that and prosecuting attorneys, all those that receive VOCA funding.
Sen Irvin: The prosecuting attorneys is the ones that I was familiar with because of what they were relying on through the court system with dealing with those victims. Can you talk about the new request for the Women’s and Children’s First shelter and how it was changed and why?
Babbitt (DFA): So, after, here again, hearing feedback from legislative members, this committee, we went back and we discussed it with Women and Children First. They have a matching grant of $4 million that can be used for construction. So taking that along with pledge donations of a capital campaign and money that was received from the Attorney General’s office, knowing the new amount for construction, we basically reduced all that. Utilizing those existing opportunities for funding, we took the $11.2 and reduced it down. Keeping in mind, I want to go back and just very briefly touch, this originally started off as a Capital Project Fund, and so there were some different criteria we use that got us to the original $9.6 million. Now that it’s under ARPA, we can reduce that request down because some of the criteria are not in there. So that’s kind of the simple way to explain it.
Sen Irvin: Okay, so why $5.7? If it’s a $4 million matching grant, why wouldn’t it be $4 million? What’s the difference? What’s the $1.7 million difference between $4 million matching grant?
Babbitt (DFA): It’s just a simple mathematical. We just took the $11.2 that the current construction cost is going to be, reduced it by the Attorney General private pledges for the capital campaign, and the $4 million of matching grant, and we got to a total of $5.7 million to be able to complete the building and the construction project.
Rep Gray: All right, Senator Irvin, the back page 29 of packet C shows that.
Babbitt (DFA): It’s a simple way to allow them to complete the building with what they currently have either in pledged matching grants or currently on hand.
Rep Gray: All right. Senator Dismang, you’re recognized.
Sen Dismang: Thank you. And this is really a question on process, because, again, I’m as confused as I can be on the process. Could you all just explain to me DFA’s role with these ARPA funds? My understanding it’s kind of the unbiased gatekeeper just to making sure all the boxes are checked before it then goes on to the steering committee for consideration. Have I misunderstood any of that?
Babbitt (DFA): No, you have not. We literally just collect the applications from any entity that’s willing to apply through the website or whether they contact me or some other staff in the office.
Sen Dismang: And so in particular, that unbiased portion of what I said, you all wouldn’t have any need or want to lobby for any individual projects, particular projects. It’s just a straightforward, unbiased approach to how these items are then presented to the steering committee?
Babbitt (DFA): Yes, I would agree with that. We send them to the consultants. They deem them eligible. We put them on a list, and then they are taken up.
Sen Dismang: Okay, thank you for the clarification on that. And one question on this Women and Children’s First, I mean, obviously, this is something that will benefit Central Arkansas, I think, in particular Little Rock. What is Little Rock’s involvement in this project? Are they committed to this project? Is Pulaski County committed to this project? Is it anything that they’re willing to use some of their ARPA funds to help fund? I mean, I do see that other cities, localities are utilizing ARPA funds to help struggling nonprofits in the area. Obviously, this is one that’s on the list. Are they also committed to this project?
Babbitt (DFA): From the information we have, obviously, the city of Little Rock has provided a 99-year lease for some land. As far as any additional ARPA funding that may come from Pulaski County or Little Rock, I think that would be better addressed to Women and Children First. And they have a representative here.
Rep Gray: All right. Are there any other questions? All right, seeing none, thank you. Lost my place. Supplemental agenda item A1, DHS. I’ll just tell you to go ahead and come to the table, please. Introduce yourselves for the record.
White (DHS): Thank you, Madam Chairman. Mark White, Secretary of Department of Human Services.
Rep Gray: All right, thank you. And I’ll go ahead and start off. If you could just give me a little bit more information. I know we have four awardees that are being granted the $11 million, and then there’s an application process for the rest. Why did we not do an application process for the entire 3$0 million? And so kind of feels like we’re playing favorites with those four.
White (DHS): Well, for the four applications that were included in those, those came through DFA, and so I would defer to them on that piece. Our involvement was we drew up a plan to make sure that the rest of the state had appropriate coverage that was similar to that provided by those four applications. And so that’s where the $19.5 million comes in, is to cover the remainder of the state so we ensure statewide coverage.
Rep Gray: Okay, so it’s almost backwards to what I was initially thinking. We had four that didn’t cover the whole state, and you kind of are introducing a plan that will cover the entire state.
White (DHS): Cover the entire state, correct.
Rep Gray: Okay. Do you have anything to add to that? No. Okay. Are there any other questions while we have DHS at the table? All right. I appreciate it. Thank you.
White (DHS): Thank you.
Rep Gray: All right, we’ll move to item A2 for Sevier County. Could I have the representatives from Sevier County please come to the table? All right, if you could please state your names for the record.
Sevier County hospital
House (Sevier Co): Laurie House, chief executive officer of Sevier County Medical Center.
Revels (Sevier Co): And Greg Revels. I’m vice chairman of the board of governors for Sevier County Medical Center.
Rep Gray: All right, thank you. If you could just kind of give us a brief overview of what your request is.
House (Sevier Co): Our request is for $6.25 million to cover the equipment for the new hospital.
Rep Gray: Okay. Kind of tell me how we got here. Did you guys pass a sales tax?
House (Sevier Co): We did. So when we said that our hospital was in financial stress, our previous hospital, it was actually the owner of the previous hospital committed fraud, and that hospital had to close. So our community came together and voted for a bond issue of $24 million and 1% sales tax to pay that bond issue.
Rep Gray: Okay. And I think my question would be I know things have changed since you passed that, there’s inflation, there’s additional cost. What’s your plan? If you were to not get these funds, what is your plan?
House (Sevier Co): So at this point, we would either have to go back to our community and ask for an additional sales tax, or we’re going to have to find additional financing.
Rep Gray: Okay. Are there any questions from– Senator Dismang, you’re recognized.
Sen Dismang: This may be more for DFA. I’m not sure. So this makes it, again, even after our request to please, no more last-minute supplementals. This makes it into a last-minute supplemental for a little over $6 million. My question is, how long have we been sitting on this particular project? How did it, through the unbiased process, make its way to the front of the line and get itself in front of the steering committee, knowing there are other projects that definitely qualified. Nothing against this one. We’re just trying to understand how we get here. So where did this one come from and did you all arrive or did the steering committee arrive at the urgency?
McVey (DFA): Let me back up and take this in a couple of steps. The Sevier County is unique from other hospitals because it is– their hospital, like Ms. House said, closed due to fraud, and it was Medicaid fraud. The CEO is actually serving time, as I understand, in a federal penitentiary. So you had a hospital closed. Then you have a county with no medical facility there during all of COVID. It’s also a county that meets all the criteria under ARPA. So we’re talking about the underserved, disproportionately impacted communities. So that begins to fill in some of that need that we need or that we must have for ARPA in the way we spend our money. So you’ve got a couple of aspects there that are going on. So as far as the steering committee, it was unique from the other hospitals that are already in existence in counties, which later on we’ll have a restricted reserve request for a contract to review the other hospitals. But this one was a little bit unique from the rest of them.
Sen Dismang: So how long has this request been held by DFA before it went to the steering committee then? Have you all had this request for three months or six months or 10 days?
McVey (DFA): Let me see here.
Sen Dismang: Do you know when you put in the request?
Revels (Sevier Co): We don’t know exactly when the request was put in, but we know that we did it– it’s been a couple of months. And then there was a process that I assume you’re familiar with, that it goes through where it went to a consulting firm for validation.
Sen Dismang: And this is nothing against you or your hospital, but this process isn’t really much of a process. And that’s what we’re trying to have a little bit of discussion about right now because there are a large number of other programs that had requests in at the same time frame you had. And I understand this one has made it– I don’t know why it didn’t make it a month ago or why it didn’t make it two months ago for us to have consideration. Because we have begged and pleaded that we no longer have these supplementals so that we have an appropriate period of time to review. There’s been thorough discussion about waiting and making sure we know what we’re doing in funding some of these projects in January. But you were added as a supplemental for this meeting. And so I guess since we’re talking a little bit, my question will be, if you are not funded with this today– it has nothing to do with the validity– does it put you all further in your opening? Or do you all still have a lot– I mean, is the construction done and we’re just waiting to put in equipment? Or where does this put you all?
Revels (Sevier Co): And that may be why it got put the way it is because we’re right at the process of opening up. And I’m going to go through a little bit of history just so you understand where we’re at. As a community, we lost our hospital. We were cheated out of it, we felt like. We went and did what we needed to do to start a new hospital process. And then COVID hit. And as it did with everything else, things just changed. And we thought we had the top architectural firms, the top construction firms, we did all that. But when it all came out, it just ended up costing more than what we anticipated it was going to cost. And a lot of that was due to COVID. And so I think maybe the reason for the urgency at this point in time is because we’re right there at the point of opening up. And so what we’ll do if we don’t get these funds is we’ll borrow the money and go ahead and open because we don’t have a choice.
Sen Dismang: So that would have been the plan, did you say, because we could have spent all this ARPA money a month ago. And on the trajectory we were going, we would have spent it all and there would not have been $6.25 million or whatever available for you all to make a request of, which was the point of this committee to try to slow things down, to understand what’s in the pipeline that we may not even have laid our eyes on at this point.
Revels (Sevier Co): I’m sorry. I don’t mean to keep interrupting you.
Sen Dismang: No. We’re good.
Revels (Sevier Co): But my understanding of it was, and Laurie, you may tell it, be a little more specific about this, but we did put an application in on a timely basis.
Sen Dismang: And I appreciate that. So for us, sitting back and trying to understand how those applications make their way through to get to the steering committee has been difficult to follow at times. My question would be– we’ve had a thorough discussion about, hey, let’s just hit the pause button, make sure we understand where we are. Because we don’t want to, for instance a project like this, have other things, maybe that are less worthy funded ahead of a project like yours that I think has–
Revels (Sevier Co): Agree.
Sen Dismang: –ticks the box.
Revels (Sevier Co): And I think, to be honest with you, we probably begged as many people as we could.
Sen Dismang: Fair enough.
Revels (Sevier Co): Because we need it. And it’s time.
Sen Dismang: No. I understand. With that, and so my question would be– we will be back in January for further discussion, in particular on these funds. I mean, clearly there’s a balance left. I mean, if you all wait till January, does that change your opening date? I mean, where does that put you all?
House (Sevier Co): Well, it definitely puts us in a financial bind. Because we have carefully planned throughout this entire process, until COVID hit, and really astronomically changed our budgets. And so it will just put us in a financial bind. We will have to incur a lot more debt than what we originally hoped for. And it may keep us from opening certain departments that we would prefer to open up front because we are not able to get that equipment. And basically it will impact our community and the type of health that we can provide, that they’ve been without for the last four years.
Revels (Sevier Co): And one other thing, or a couple of other things. One is that, as you are well aware, interest rates have increased, doubled in the last three months, basically. So that’s going to be a significant number for us as we try to repay those loans. One thing, and everybody in here may be aware of this but me, and I may be really naive, but opening up a hospital from scratch is hard. There’s things that happen. And just one thing, there’s a process you have to go through to even start to collect revenues, that takes a significant period of time from between three and six months, which is not why we’re asking for these funds. But that’s going to be part of our financial problem as we move forward if we don’t get these funds due to the fact that we’ll have to borrow this money for equipment and use that, so. Thank you.
Rep Gray: Senator Irvin, you’re recognized.
Sen Irvin: Thank you. Along those lines, as far as the need for emergent, like is it an emergency need? And and I’m going to state this, and my question would be to DFA, is this request for $6 million, is that part of the $60 million that we had had discussions about setting aside for all the hospitals in the state of Arkansas that are in financial need? We have said no to some of those hospitals. Some of those hospital requests have been continuously pushed down and pushed down and pushed down. So what’s the plan? Because I’m real tired of getting told one thing and then showing up in committee and it’s something completely different.
McVey (DFA): This is not part of the $60 million. This here, again, I’ll go back to it. It serves a population that is identified in Qualified Census Tracts, which is the terminology–
Sen Irvin: I understand all of that. My question to you again is, is it going to be part of the $60 million that we set aside arbitrarily for the hospital requests that I know we are hiring a consultant and looking at those books– I support the request for ARPA money to be used for hospitals. I don’t care where they are in the state of Arkansas. For me, I do not want this to devolve into a GIF grant program. I believe that the ARPA money should be first and foremost spent on hospitals and healthcare, because that is why we are dealing with what we are dealing with, because of COVID. They just stated it. I am so frustrated by the process. I am so frustrated with the lack of communication and the lack of understanding that we and the legislature serve the entire state. And so I don’t understand why things are coming to us as they are coming to us. I fully supported us funding Camden Hospital, because it was also an– from what we were told, it was an emergency situation. But I understand there are other hospitals in other areas of the state that have the exact same criteria as Camden did that are not getting put before us. I mean, are we just picking winners and losers? Or what are we doing?
McVey (DFA): This is not part of the $60 million. As far as the $60 million goes, after funding the Camden Hospital, there’s approximately $54 million left. But what we heard from leadership in the legislature is that there needed to be an evaluation when those proposals come through DHS. And so what we have on the agenda later on in this meeting and then in review, is funding for a contract to hire consultants that have the background and the knowledge to come in here and tell us, is it really an emergent need, or is it–?
Sen Irvin: So why wouldn’t that consultant and that process apply to Sevier County? And is Camden going to also go through that process even though we have already given them the money?
McVey (DFA): Since Sevier County is not open, they’re not on the listing of 26 hospitals that will be considered by the consultant. To your question about Camden, and I think it’s Ouachita County Medical Center, that would be a question better addressed to DHS. I’m not sure if we can force that hospital to go back and go through that review at this point. Because all the hospitals come through DHS first before they come to this committee.
Sen Irvin: Well, I understand that. But I mean, if we’re holding– are we going to hold everyone to the same standard or not? That’s not an acceptable answer to my question. And I think that whether it’s Sevier County or Camden or Hot Springs, they would benefit from that process. We’re hiring a consultant for that. And so we need to have a standard that’s going to be applicable and applied fairly across the board to everybody, because if we’re not, then we are just picking winners and losers. And that’s inappropriate behavior, in my opinion.
McVey (DFA): There’s two separate groups of hospitals here. We’ve got the existing hospitals that are both–
Sen Irvin: Right. But you just answered that Camden is not going to go through this review process. They’re an existing hospital. We’re hiring a consultant. We’re using ARPA funds. So why would they not go through that after the fact, to ensure accountability to the taxpayers of the state?
McVey (DFA): I don’t disagree with you.
Sen Irvin: That’s my job.
McVey (DFA): Yes. I don’t disagree with you at all. I don’t know if– even though we hired the consultants, I don’t know that we can force a hospital who’s already received funds to go through the same process that the other hospitals would have to go through. That’s a legal question, and I do not have the answer for that. But I agree with you. If a hospital has gotten funds, I think they should go through the process.
Sen Irvin: Yes. If a hospital or any entity goes through a process and receives taxpayer dollars, they should be accountable for the way they spend that money. And we need to know if it was actually done correctly or not. I think that’s pretty reasonable and fair for the taxpayers.
McVey (DFA): And Senator, I mean just correct me here if I’m not understanding this properly. The consultant that we’re hiring to look at these hospitals moving forward is looking to verify the accuracy and the urgency of the request.
Sen Irvin: Yes. They’re going to do a more– I don’t have my notes with me, but they’re going to do a more in depth review. They’re going to look at management plans. They’re going to look at what management has done to reduce expenses. What services are offered? Are those profitable services or not?
McVey (DFA): So why wouldn’t– I’m sorry.
Sen Irvin: Go ahead.
Rep Gray: So I’m just trying to bring clarity here. So they’re looking at it from one angle, and so it’s– Senator, I don’t know how we get that same company to go back and look at someone that we’ve already given the funds to for whether or not the information they presented is accurate, what their management plan is, they already have the money. As far as whether or not they spent the funds in accordance with ARPA guidelines is a totally different ball game that–
Sen Irvin: I understand.
Rep Gray: DFA will have to oversee, but not through the consultant.
Sen Irvin: Madam Chair, just to your point, you just stated that they’re going to review these to see if there are emergency requests needed, that’s absolutely applicable to the situation with Sevier County. So I would say, it would benefit Sevier County actually to wait and then put them first on the list with a consultant. So that actually they’re going to be helpful in that process for Sevier County. And then bring that back to us in January. That I think would be more reasonable, to be honest with you. And I think it would be beneficial to you guys.
Rep Gray: All right. Thank you. Senator Rice, you’re recognized.
Sen Rice: Yeah. Just quickly to Sevier County. What is the amount of financing you have and the term of years to pay back currently?
House (Sevier Co): Our current bond is $24 million. And we’re paying that back over 30 years. What happens, our 1-cent surtax is collected, and the bond payment is reduced. And then we receive the difference.
Sen Rice: So on the quarter million, if you went back to financing, would you have other sources other than the way you’ve done this, or would you just have to extend longer?
House (Sevier Co): We would have to actually go to a bank and receive a loan.
Sen Rice: Different financing? Okay, thank you.
House (Sevier Co): Yes.
Rep Gray: What’s your cash on hand? What’s your expected opening date?
House (Sevier Co): The expected opening date is before the end of the year. And right now we have just a little over $2 million. But we have a tremendous amount of bills to pay between now and then. We will not have enough money on our own to be able to proceed probably after the end of the year.
Rep Gray: Okay. What’s your expected monthly operating budget? Do you have staff already hired? I’m assuming you do.
House (Sevier Co): We do. We have 96 staff members already hired. And I’m sorry I don’t have my budget in front of me, but we’ve been working with an accounting firm and our attorneys extensively to make sure that if we do receive this money, we will be able to operate and be financially stable.
Revels (Sevier Co): Are you asking for the monthly expenses?
Rep Gray: Yeah. Just give me like–
Revels (Sevier Co): It would be approximately a million dollars.
Rep Gray: Approximately a million. And what are your current accounts payable? What’s outstanding? Do you know that?
Revels (Sevier Co): I don’t know that for sure. I think that at this point in time, what we’re doing now is we’re trying to basically finish up the construction. And the reason I don’t know that answer is because we have not paid our main contractor because we wanted to make sure they finished. And so they haven’t finished totally with the punch list that we have for them. So I’m not sure exactly what that number is, but it’s somewhere close to, I think a million and a half is I would think.
House (Sevier Co): Yeah. It’s almost 1.9.
Rep Gray: It’s what you have outstanding?
House (Sevier Co): Yes, ma’am.
Rep Gray: And payables essentially to finish up the completion of the hospital?
House (Sevier Co): Correct.
Rep Gray: Okay. Representative Vaught, you’re recognized.
Rep Vaught: Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you all for driving up. I know it’s been back and forth whether you would actually get to speak or not. So I appreciate you all driving up not knowing today. First, I want to commend, of course, you’re in my area, you’re from my home county, so I appreciate all the work and dedication that’s been put into us trying to get a new hospital from the ground up. I think there’s a difference in the type of hospital that we’re trying to open and other hospitals. And I would like for you to talk to that point. And then I want to thank the people of Sevier County because they did what was right. Because it is crucial that we have a hospital in our area. Not just to have a hospital there, but because the industry that’s there, actually the contract with them says that we will have a hospital near their facilities or close to their facilities. So there’s a couple of reasons why it’s important that we open this hospital. We’re very poor, very rural, and poverty in our area is high, anyway. But the second would be because we have an industry that actually dictates that we will have a hospital due to the contract that we have with them. But I would like for you to speak to the difference in your hospital, what you’re trying to do, and a standard hospital that’s already standing, if you don’t mind.
House (Sevier Co): Sure. Well, an acute care hospital is the standard of hospital that’s not necessarily a rural hospital. We are going for our critical access hospital designation. First, we have to become an acute care hospital. As soon as we meet those standards, then we can apply for our critical access hospital. Our hospital is over 35 miles away from any other medical care that our citizens have. And it’s imperative. Our largest industry is the poultry industry, which is Pilgrim’s Pride. And in their contract to stay in our county, it requires us to have a hospital. They are by far our largest employer with over 1,000 jobs. And so it would absolutely devastate our county and our community if we can’t get this hospital open. And we need to get it open by the end of the year.
Rep Vaught: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Rep Gray: All right. Representative Dotson is going to make his way back. All right, we’ll let Senator Dismang jump in for a moment.
Sen Dismang: You said open by the end of the year?
House (Sevier Co): Yes, sir.
Sen Dismang: All right. And if you don’t get the $6.2 to buy the equipment– I mean, I don’t know how your supply chain is, but in mine, I couldn’t order something and get it in two weeks of any volume of any kind. So do you already have purchase orders and everything in place to make this thing happen?
House (Sevier Co): Yes. So what we’ve done is–
Sen Dismang: I just want to– because that’s different than– I mean, I know there’s an emotion that we need to address, but you’re opening before the end of the year, regardless if you get this $6.25. You’ve already got purchase orders and shipments coming that you’ve agreed to cover and pay for before this ever left the steering committee.
Revels (Sevier Co): Yes.
House (Sevier Co): That’s correct.
Sen Dismang: Okay. That’s a different conversation, the one that we’ve been having, in my opinion, which is if we don’t get this money, we’re not going to open. You’re going to open anyway because all the stuff is arriving. You’re going to have it in place. It’s just how you’re going to pay for it is the question. Is that fair?
House (Sevier Co): That’s very fair.
Sen Dismang: Okay. Because I don’t want it to turn into a discussion, which I think is which where you’re headed. I understand the importance of a hospital, local hospital, but you all are opening. If you don’t open, it’s not because of the fault of this committee not approving ARPA funds for you all, because you were already in process well before the request was ever brought forward.
Revels (Sevier Co): You’re exactly right. We have to open. We’re at a place where we have to open.
Sen Dismang: Okay, thank you. Thank you for that because I just didn’t want that to get misconstrued amongst the committee. Okay, thank you.
Rep Gray: All right. Representative Dotson, you’re recognized.
Remaining ARPA funding
Rep Dotson: Thank you, Madam Chair. And I think this is probably a question for DFA. Maybe staff can help with this, but I’m just trying to get a handle on where we’re at with overall ARPA funds, requests that have been made to date. I know we have a report on J5 in the packet, but, I mean, these supplemental requests are not on that report at all. And so I don’t know, can you help me understand exactly where we’re at? If these requests are approved, what’s left? And I guess, I guess it’s not just these, but all of the held items that are– I don’t know if we’re going to vote on those today or not going to vote on those today or what the situation is at this exact moment in time, but where are we at?
McVey (DFA): Okay. We have a listing internally. All projects that have cleared the steering committee have been presented, including those held by Peer. If all of those clear out, we’ll have approximately $293 million left.
Rep Dotson: Okay. So of 100% of everything that you’ve requested of this committee to date, $293 is left of the $1.6 billion total in the ARPA funds?
McVey (DFA): Correct.
Rep Dotson: Okay. And that includes this $6 million and the $30 million or so that was in this supplemental?
McVey (DFA): Yes, sir.
Rep Dotson: Just ahead of this, all of that?
McVey (DFA): Yes, sir.
Rep Dotson: I guess I can do the math on the rest of it. Thank you.
Rep Gray: If we didn’t approve anything today– just because I don’t have my glasses, and I can hardly read this, if we didn’t approve anything today, what would our remaining balance be?
McVey (DFA): I don’t do public math very well, but I’m going to put it somewhere over $400 million.
Rep Gray: Just get close.
McVey (DFA): Somewhere over $400 million, I believe, if we don’t approve anything today.
Rep Gray: Okay. Okay. All right. Thank you. Representative Vaught, you’re recognized. Okay. You just showed back up. All right. Representative Dotson, you want to go again?
Rep Dotson: Yes, please.
Rep Gray: Okay.
Rep Dotson: Thank you, Madam Chair. Sorry, I guess I came up with another thought on this. Of the remaining non-approved items that are requested, how many funding requests do you have left for that $293 million? What’s sitting out there that we don’t know about yet?
McVey (DFA): We have – I’m going to guesstimate here – somewhere around 150 requests. Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% are currently still under review by our consultants, and then we have some that are deemed ineligible just because of the nature of the project and how it’s been presented.
Rep Dotson: So you’re saying we have around 15 requests that might be coming up still for these funds that you’re aware of right now?
McVey (DFA): There are, yes, probably 50 or so that have been deemed eligible that may be presented.
Rep Dotson: And is that $150 million worth of requests or $750 million worth of requests? How much, roughly, I mean?
McVey (DFA): Those that have been deemed eligible at this point are $762 million with another $170 million in review.
Rep Dotson: Okay. So almost $800. And then because I don’t have it all split out here, do you have the exact amount that is being requested that’s on today’s agenda? I don’t know if staff might have that, including all supplementals and everything, just so–
Rep Gray: We’ll add it up for you.
Rep Dotson: Okay. That’d be great because that’s the–
Rep Gray: In page J, it’s item J5. Back of J5, page 4, shows the current remaining balance of $400,852,022.57.
Rep Dotson: So that would be $108 million roughly on today’s agenda being requested?
Rep Gray: Give me just a second.
McVey (DFA): While they’re doing that addition, keep in mind that the projects that were presented for broadband, that is coming out of a separate fund of money as opposed to the ARPA projects that I just described. Their funding is going to come from Capital Project Funds.
Rep Dotson: So that’s not part of this 400 million–
McVey (DFA): No, sir.
Rep Dotson: –that’s remaining?
McVey (DFA): No, sir.
Rep Dotson: So while we’re kind of waiting on that, I don’t know, do you have a list of those things that you can get to us as far as what’s coming down the pipe? Because we’re getting ready to have to make some really tough decisions on which things get funded and which things don’t. If we’ve only got $293 million left to put toward projects, but you’ve got $750, $800 million dollars worth of requests, how are you going to prioritize which things come to the steering committee for approval, which come to us? I mean, are those things hospital related? What categories are they in? What’s your priority list?
McVey (DFA): Well, let me first address the first question. Yes, we can definitely share this with you. It’s a fairly long, lengthy list. We can definitely get that to the committee for you to review. As far as prioritization, I believe we need to look at it from a statewide perspective to make sure, and I think that’s what you’re going to see coming through on some plans, both with the domestic violence plan we’ve talked about, the substance abuse plan. There’s a follow-on nursing plan that we’re going to put forward. So I think you’re going to see it from a statewide perspective, but we definitely appreciate any input that we receive from the committee or members.
Rep Dotson: On that list, is there– because I may have missed it, I don’t know, but at some point in time, the pharmacists are getting reimbursed for all of the COVID vaccinations and things that they put out. It seems to me that was around $20-some-odd million, but I don’t think I’ve seen that come through yet, and they were supposed to wait till the second tranche was released this summer. We’re past that point. Where’s that? Is that on that list?
McVey (DFA): It is on this list. I actually had a conversation with the Pharmacy Association last week, and what we did was we needed some clarification on exactly how they were going to arrive at the reimbursement rates. And so working with them, we’ve put together a plan. I believe I will get the data sometime this week. Here again, it’s a phone conversation, but we’ve had roughly 120 pharmacies submit data to the Pharmacy Association. They’re compiling that. They’re going to get it to us, and then we’ll have a true dollar amount. I believe the dollar amount is going to be somewhat less than $10 million as of our phone call last week. So we are working through that process with them.
Rep Dotson: To the best of my recollection, that came up like in January or February of this year, and we are waiting. So it’s taken this long to get to this point. Are they going to get it done before the money is all gone?
McVey (DFA): Yes, I believe we will have an eligible program before all the money is gone. Yes, I do believe that.
Rep Dotson: Thank you, Madam Chair. I’ll wait for the–
Rep Gray: And it’s– not including broadband requests, the total requests today, the new ones are $66.3 million, which would take us to $334 million, off the top of my head, in remaining funds.
Rep Dotson: And does that include the supplementals, the $30, and the $60?
Rep Gray: It does.
Rep Dotson: Okay, thank you.
Rep Gray: But not what’s held. That’s correct. It includes the five, the three on the regular agenda, two on the supplemental, but nothing that we have held previously. Total of held items, that will be a little bit– we’ll get you that number. All right. Are there any other questions for Sevier County while we have them here at the table?
Revels (Sevier Co): Would it be all right if I say one more thing?
Rep Gray: Yes.
Revels (Sevier Co): Okay. I just want to mention, to Senator Dismang’s point about opening, when we say, “Yes, we’re going to open,” that’s because we’re positive about what we’re going to do. We’ve been working with banks, trying to obtain a loan or a line of credit or something for almost two months, and we still haven’t gotten it done, and I don’t know that we will get it done. And so we’re positive about what we want to do, and that’s why we say we’re going to open. But there’s always that possibility, we get to this point, and if nobody will help us, we’re done.
Rep Gray: Okay. And so you’ve been working for two months to secure a loan, essentially, with a–
Revels (Sevier Co): Yes. And as of right now, we’ve got one bank. We went to all kinds of banks, both local, state, and national, and we’ve got one bank that’s working with us now but has not given us yes or no.
Rep Gray: All right. So you essentially do not have a line of credit with a financial institution?
Revels (Sevier Co): No. We do not at this time, no.
Rep Gray: Okay. Seat number 68, Representative Christiansen, you’re recognized.
Rep Christiansen: Thank you, Madam Chair. My question to Sevier County is if you do not get funding today as you’ve requested, that puts you in a loan process that raises your debt ceiling. Is that correct? So that takes a longer time for you to become profitable or sustainable and, in fact, could impact the cost of health care for the taxpayers. Is that correct?
House (Sevier Co): That is correct. Thank you very much.
Rep Gray: Senator Irvin, you’re recognized. No? All right. Are there any other questions? All right. I appreciate you guys. Thank you for coming today. All right, members. I think probably where we’re at, the best way to address this with these steering committee awards is to look at them one by one for a vote. So we’ll look at item C1 on the regular agenda– I mean C3. We’ve already approved C1 and 2. C3. Do I have a motion to approve item C3? I have a motion– hold on. Do I have a motion to approve that at the amended amount of $93,892,885? Yes. All right. I have that motion. Do I have a second? I have a second. Is there any discussion on the motion? All right. Seeing none, all in favor, aye. Opposed, nay. Motion carries. All right. Looking at item C4, Administrative Office of The Courts. I have a motion to approve that. Do I have a second? I’ve got a second. Are there any discussion on the motion? All right. Seeing none, all in favor, aye. Opposed, nay. All right. Motion carries. Looking at item C5, DFA? Do I have a motion? I have a motion to pass over this. I have a second to pass over this item. Is there any discussion on this motion? All right. Seeing none, all in favor, aye. Opposed, nay. Motion carries. We’ll pass over this item. Go to the supplemental agenda, item A1. I have a motion to pass over. Do I have a– I have a second. Is there any discussion on this motion to pass over? All right. Seeing none, all in favor, aye. Opposed, nay. I’d say the nays have it. Do I have any other motions on this item? So this item currently– All right. I have a motion to hold the item for the next agenda. Do I have a second? I have a second. Is there any discussion on that motion? All right. Seeing none, all in favor of holding this until the next agenda, say aye. Opposed, nay. The ayes have it. This item is held to the next agenda. All right. I have a motion to pass over item A2 on the supplemental agenda. Do I have a second? I have a second. All right. Senator Hickey, you are recognized for a substitute motion.
Sen Hickey: Yes, I want to substitute motion to approve.
Rep Gray: All right. That is a proper motion, and I have a second. Is there any discussion on the substitute motion to approve item A2 on the supplemental agenda? All right. Seeing none, all in favor of Senator Hickey’s motion, say aye. Opposed, nay. The ayes have it. Motion carries. All right. So we are passing over the held items. That moves us to item D on the regular agenda. Representative Wardlaw.
Debate on revote / supplemental items
Rep Wardlaw: I have a motion.
Rep Gray: Let’s hear your motion.
Rep Wardlaw: My motion is that we hear the held items from the Peer agenda on all the ARP plans and that we go back and revote. I’ll take the next motion. Let’s have that one first.
Rep Gray: All right. We’ve got to have a vote first, but I will. Did everyone hear that motion? I’ll go ahead and repeat it. The motion was that we go ahead and hear the items that have previously been passed over and are under the held section in our regular agenda under item C. Is there any discussion on that motion? All right. Senator Irvin has requested that we split the chamber for the vote. Do I have three hands for the roll call? All right. I have three hands, so we’re going to do a roll call on your motion. Okay. And we are splitting the chamber. I’m just making sure I have the parliamentary procedure correct. So is there any discussion on this motion before we start taking the vote? All right. Seeing none, we’ll start with– Yeah. I’ve been trying to let people have discussion.
Sen Dismang: Members, I want to circle back, and we’ve had this discussion before, and I know we’ve got some new members coming in, so I’ll just try not to waste everyone’s time. But we had GIF, and I’m going to tell you this is exactly what it looks like. It’s individual projects that are prioritized without reason except for influence or whatever it may be that’s being brought up for consideration. Now, everybody that’s getting their project considered today is going to be very excited, and maybe there’s enough, collectively, of you that have a project on the table to pass something today, but that’s not a good process. It’s not a fair process. We’ve asked and begged and pleaded to understand how things are being prioritized. You just heard about a hospital that’s had something held for two months without consideration, and it made its way to a supplemental agenda just a few hours before our meeting. That doesn’t make any sense to me. That tells me that the process has been broken, and it’s been broken for a while. We’ve tried to talk about that in this committee, and nothing’s really ever changed. So I don’t know how you are all going to vote today on hearing the rest of these items, but we’re opening the door back up for personal pet projects back in each district. I didn’t like it when it happened in the past, and I’m not going to like it today, and with that, I’d ask that you vote no on hearing these additional items. Thank you. And by the way, there are several of these projects that are in my district.
Rep Gray: Senator Irvin, you’re recognized for discussion.
Sen Irvin: Thank you. Not to repeat what Senator Dismang said, but I agree 100%. I’m disgusted by this process. And there are projects on here that I absolutely support that probably do benefit the people I represent. We moved away from GIF grant programs for a very particular reason. And to do this the way that it’s been done is ridiculous and it’s wrong. And all you’re doing is trying to cause division within the legislature body. That’s all you’re doing. And you’re picking winners and losers in the state of Arkansas. Well, excuse me, but every citizen in the state of Arkansas matters. Every single one of them no matter where they are in this state is a taxpayer. And for you not to have a thoughtful and intentional process in how we go about these is unbelievably disrespectful to every citizen in the state of Arkansas. I will not participate in this. I am a firm no. And I hope we do not do this because this is not right to use ARPA money in a way to benefit certain districts in the State of Arkansas and certain citizens in the State of Arkansas, and not everybody in the State of Arkansas. And so I hope that we vote no. I ask you to vote no.
Rep Gray: All right, thank you. Is there any other discussion on the motion? All right. Seeing none, just a reminder, this motion is to go ahead and hear and vote on item C6 through 17 on the regular agenda. Call the roll. We’ll start with the House.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Madam Chair. Representative Jean? Representative Jean is yes. Representative Deffenbaugh. Not hearing Representative Deffenbaugh, moving to first alternate. Representative Godfrey. Not hearing Representative Godfrey, moving to second alternate Representative Underwood. Representative Bragg. Representative Bragg is aye. Representative Fite? Not hearing Representative Fite, moving to Representative Hawk. Representative Hawk is no. Representative Ferguson? Representative Ferguson is aye. Representative Vaught?Representative Vaught is yes. Representative Wardlaw. Representative Wardlaw is yes. Representative Dotson? Roll call in the Senate, starting with Senator Ingram. Senator Teague. Senator Chesterfield. Not here, Senator Chesterfield. First alternate Senator Tucker. Senator Sample? Senator Sample is no. Senator Caldwell? Senator Caldwell is no. Senator Hickey? Senator Hickey? Senator Hickey is aye. Senator Flippo? Senator Flippo? Senator Flippo is no. Senator Irvin. Senator Irvin? Senator Irvin is no. Senator Rice? Senator Rice is no.
Rep Gray: All right, motion fails. All right, we move on to item C– D on the agenda.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Madam Chair, we’re in section D. These are the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs appropriation requests. There’s only one on the agenda today. This is for the Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management. It’s for $306,000 in appropriation. This is to utilize the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant to protect against the risk to life, property, and the environment that are inherent to the transportation of hazardous materials.
Sen Dismang: Thank you. Members, do we have any questions on item D1. Seeing no questions, any discussion? We’ve got a motion to approve. We’ve got a second. All those in favor signify by saying aye. All those opposed? Motion carries. Item E.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Mr. Chair. We’re in section E. This is the Department of Transportation Request for Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Appropriation. This is for $215 million in spending authority. It’s to spend federal funding on highway construction, highway safety programs, transit programs, and other purposes. This request is for appropriation for the last quarter of fiscal year 2023. That’d be April through June.
Sen Dismang: All right, members, do you have any questions on the $215 million for the Transportation Department? No questions, no discussion. We’ve got a motion to approve. We’ve got a second. All those in favor signify by saying aye. All those opposed? Motion carries. F1.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Mr. Chair. We’re in section F. These are restricted reserve transfer requests. The first one, F1, is a letter from the Department of Correction Division of Correction. This is a $75 million transfer from the Majority Vote Various Improvements and Projects Set Aside account within the restricted reserve fund. This is to expand the Division of Corrections North Central Unit.
Sen Dismang: Members, do you have any questions on F1? Seeing no questions, we got a motion to approve. We’ve got a second. All those in favor signify by saying aye. All those opposed? Motion carries. F2.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Mr. Chair, we’re on F2. This is a letter from DFA. This is a request to transfer of $1.3 million from the EBD or Contingency 3/5 Vote Set Aside account. This is to conduct an independent review of the financial and operational viability of up to 26 rural hospitals and critical access hospitals. We’ll note that there is an appropriation request for the spending authority for this funds later in the agenda in the cash section.
Sen Dismang: All right, thank you. Members, any questions on F2? No questions. Any discussion? No discussion. We’ve got a motion to approve. We’ve got a second. All those in favor signify by saying aye. All those opposed? Motion carries. F4. We pass it over?
BLR Staff: Yes, sir. Items 3 and 4 are held. And so we do have another request on the supplemental agenda. That’s on page 15 of the supplemental agenda packet. So pages 15 and 16. On page 16 is a letter. This is B1 of the supplemental agenda. This is a letter from the Department of Education Division of Higher Education. It’s a $200,000 transfer from the Majority Vote Set Aside account within the Restricted Reserve Fund. And this is to support the establishment of a student success center and veterans resource center on the UCA campus.
Sen Dismang: Members, do y’all have any questions on supplemental item agenda B1? No questions. We got no discussion. All right, we got a motion to approve. We got a second. All those in favor, signify by saying aye. Opposed? Ayes have it. Motion carries. All right, members, we’re going to move to the review items. You’re going to run through G1 through 4 and come back to it? All right, we’re going to run through items G1 through 4.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Mr. Chair. We’re in Section G. These are the cash appropriation requests. The first item is a letter from the Administrative Office of the Courts. This is a $1 million appropriation increase. It’s to utilize a donation from the Attorney General’s office for the Adult Drug Court program. G2 is on page 3. This is a letter from Parks, Heritage, and Tourism, the Division of Heritage. It’s $300,000 in appropriation. This is to allow the Natural Heritage Commission to acquire land under a land and water conservation grant. This is similar to the various temporary appropriation requests that was reviewed earlier in the agenda. G3. This is a letter from DFA disbursing officer. It’s for $1.3 million.
BLR Staff: This is to conduct the independent review of the financial and operational viability of up to 26 rural hospitals and critical access hospitals. This is the spitting authority for the fund transfer and restricted reserve section. G4 is Parks Heritage and Tourism Division Heritage. It’s $87,500. This is to facilitate a grant from the Walton Family Foundation for an after-school and summer program at the Delta Cultural Center. There is one more request. It’s on the supplemental agenda. That’s on page 18. On page 18 of the supplemental agenda packet, there’s a letter at C1. It’s from the Department of Education, Arkansas PBS. It’s $597,000. It’s to pay for operating expenses. The letter explains they failed to increase their appropriation for their Ready for Life initiative, and now they will face a shortfall in spending authority for operating expenses. Mr. Chair, those are all the cash appropriation requests.
Sen Dismang: All right, I’m going to go through these one at a time. Representative Dotson, and so you just hit your mic when you’re ready for– G1, any questions on G1? No. All right, G 1, 2, 3, 4. And then the item C1. Representative Dotson, you’re recognized for a question, and I’m assuming that’s AETN.
Rep Dotson: Yep.
Sen Dismang: Is there anybody here that can answer your question? If you could just recognize yourself for the committee and your recognized representative to move forward with a question.
Kumpuris (PBS): Sajni Kumpuris, Director of Education at Arkansas PBS.
Ryall (PBS): Marty Ryall, Director of External Relations, Arkansas PBS.
Barksdale (PBS): Jim Barksdale, Controller.
Rep Dotson: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you. I don’t know, just looking at this request, you paid $600,000 to LinkedIn? I just didn’t know that you could pay them that much.
Ryall (PBS): And Sajni may be better to answer this than I am, but LinkedIn, we have a long-term contract with them for our continuing education classes that we do. And we’ve been using them with Arkansas Ideas quite a bit. And since we had an existing contract, the Department of Education asked us to use that contract for this Ready to Learn, which is workforce training videos that people can access and go online and get for new jobs or whatever it may be. But yes, it’s through LinkedIn.
Rep Dotson: And do you have a lot of utilization– do people use that a lot?
Kumpuris (PBS): We use it for educators. We have an LMS that we do in partnership with Department of Ed that provides 700 courses for K-12 teachers. And so we also do it for administrators and school support staff. This LinkedIn contract allows them to have job skills training. So something if it’s an existing worker, they can learn something new to support their job. And then it’s also for people who are looking for a job and those skills that they can learn from some of these digital content libraries that we have.
Rep Dotson: And you don’t host that in-house for people to come get that training directly from you. You go through LinkedIn for that?
Kumpuris (PBS): Yeah, we do that as well. So we have many courses, over 700. The LinkedIn library is an additional library. So that may have things for soft skills like interviewing. And this is part of the Gears funding that we got provided for the Ready for Life program. So the Ready for Life program is for the workforce to get job skills training, and also for existing workers to get training. So this is a high-quality library of content that allows them to get that training.
Rep Dotson: So you have the money, you just don’t have the appropriation to spend the money?
Kumpuris (PBS): Correct.
Rep Dotson: Okay, thank you.
Rep Gray: All right, are there any other questions while we have them at the table? Senator Hickey, you’re recognized.
Sen Stubblefield: This is Senator Stubblefield. Thank you, Madam Chair. Can you tell me, how much of this is in-house and how much of it’s online?
Kumpuris (PBS): It is all provided online.
Sen Stubblefield: It’s all online?
Kumpuris (PBS): And it is free to the people that use it to our candidates.
Sen Stubblefield: And do you keep track of how many people log on?
Kumpuris (PBS): We do. Part of the Ready For Life, they have a representative that keeps it, but we are also the administrator, so we can have–
Sen Stubblefield: Do you know what those numbers are?
Kumpuris (PBS): We don’t have a goal to look up those numbers at this point, but I can certainly look.
Sen Stubblefield: I would like to know what the percentages that log on to these online?
Kumpuris (PBS): Yes.
Sen Stubblefield: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Rep Gray: All right, thank you. Are there any other questions while they’re at the table? All right, seeing none, thank you. All right, are there any other questions for items G1 through 4 on the regular agenda or item C1 on the supplemental agenda? All right, seeing none, we will mark– did I hear a question? We’ll just mark these items as reviewed. Thank you. Move to item H.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Madam Chair, we’re in section H. These are the miscellaneous federal grants. The first two, H1 and H2 are for the Office of the Prosecutor Coordinator. The first one is for $77,000 and the second one is for $350. These are to provide loan repayment assistance for local, state, and federal public defenders and prosecutors who commit to continued employment for at least three years. The next item is number 3. This is the Department of Education, Division of Career and Technical Education. It’s for $450,000, the spending authority for federal funds. It’s to return grant funds to the US. Department of Education as a result of vendor refunds or audit findings. The next item number 4 is Department of Health. It’s $70,000 in appropriation. They have a grant from the CDC for the Arkansas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Next item is number 5. DHS Division Youth Services. This is $1.4 million in spending authority. They have a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services for the Social Services Block Grant for Residential Treatment services.
BLR Staff: Number 6 is DHS, Division of Aging. It’s $10.8 million in appropriation. They have a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to address the opioid crisis. Number 7 DHS Division of Aging, $64,000, in appropriation and to establish one position. They have a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to support activities to access mental health treatment and crisis care. Number 8 is DHS Division of Aging. It’s $64,000 and also to establish one position. They have a grant to support Medicare fraud patrol activities. Number 9 is DHS Division of Aging again. This is for $79,000 in appropriation and to establish one position. They have a grant to support activities related to the Older Americans Act. Number 10 is DHS Division of Aging again. This is for $441,000 in appropriation and to establish six positions. They have a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to support activities related to substance abuse prevention and treatment. Number 11 is DHS Division of Developmental Disabilities. This is $2 million in appropriation.
BLR Staff: They have a grant from US Department of Education for First Connections. That’s an early intervention network to serve children up to 36 months who have developmental disabilities and delays. Number 12 and 13 are for DHS Division of County Operations. Number 12 is for $2.1 million and to establish two positions. Number 13 is for $872,000. And these are grants from the USDA to provide employment and training services for able-bodied Snap recipients. Number 14 is for DHS County Operations. It’s for $2.5 million in appropriation. They have a grant from the USDA to increase the likelihood persons eligible for Snap will make healthy food choices. Number 15 again, DHS Division Accounting Operations, $142,000 in appropriation. This is another grant from USDA to do outreach for seniors in areas identified with low staff participation. Number 16 is DHS Accounting Operations, $20,000 in appropriation.
BLR Staff: This is another grant from USDA. This is to give able-bodied adults with dependents the opportunity to volunteer in their community to meet work requirements. Number 17 is Department of Commerce Economic Development Commission. It’s for $31,000 in appropriation. They have a grant from the Department of Workforce Service to create a development video for K-12 students as part of their career counseling and workforce training project. Number 18 is for the Department of Public Safety. It’s for a million in appropriation and to establish one position. They had a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to assist with the collection of lawfully-owned DNA, particularly from sex offenders who have yet to submit their DNA for entry into a database. Madam Chair, those were all the MFGs on today’s agenda.
Rep Gray: All right, thank you. Senator Stubblefield, did you have a question being that your mic is on?
Sen Stubblefield: No.
Rep Gray: Okay. They know today is my last day and they’re playing tricks on me, so. All right, are there any questions on any of the items on H? All right, seeing none, we’ll mark those as reviewed, and we’ll move to item I.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Madam Chair. We’re in section I. These are pay plan performance fund appropriation requests. There’s only one on the agenda, it’s for DFA regulatory divisions, $195,000 in Pay plan appropriation. This is to support the Arkansas Tobacco control enforcement activities.
Rep Gray: All right, thank you. Are there any questions on item I? All right, seeing none, we’ll mark that item as reviewed. All right, we’ll go ahead with the reports.
BLR Staff: Thank you, Madam Chair. We’re in monthly reports. The first one is J1. It’s a surplus income and distribution report. And this report shows the sources of the unobligated funds and then the distributions for the rainy day, restricted reserve, and long-term reserve funds. As of the end of November, the rainy day fund shows $16.2 million in distributions and a balance of $347,000. The restricted reserve fund shows almost $233 million in distributions and an overall balance of $187 million. That new balance will be $109 million. That’s after $76.5 million in transfers on today’s agenda. The total catastrophic reserve fund balance is $1.2 billion. The next report is J2, budget stabilization. And this shows the cash flow loans throughout the fiscal year. As of the end of November, there are $15.8 million in outstanding loans and the cash balance is $179 million.
BLR Staff: The next report is J3, tobacco settlement. And this report gives a summary of income, fund balances investments, actual payments to the state. And on the second page are all expenses by fiscal year. Number J4 is the State Central Services report. And this shows the fund balance and disbursements as well as expenditures of each agency supported by the fund. And the last report, J5, is the American Rescue Plan report. The first five pages of the report show requests that were approved by the ARP Steering Committee that the state has discretion in awarding. On the 6th page begins attachment A. That’s a report of ARP funds that were sent directly to state agencies from various federal departments. And on page 12 is attachment B. This is a report of ARP funds that were sent directly to institutions of higher education.
Rep Gray: All right, Representative Vaught, do you have a question?
Rep Vaught: No, ma’am, I have other business.
Rep Gray: Okay, let me get through these real quick and then we’ll recognize you for other business if that’s all right. Are there any questions on any of the items on J, the reports? All right, seeing none, we’ll mark those as reviewed. All right, Representative Vaught, you’re recognized.
Rep Vaught: Thank you, ma’am. I would like to ask for a point of personal privilege.
Rep Gray: You’re recognized.
Rep. Gray farewell
Rep Vaught: As today is Madam Chair’s last day, and it has been an honor to serve with you for eight years as one of the best legislators, I think, that’s probably ever been elected to the state legislature, especially to the House of Representatives. As you move on to your next adventure, we hope you the best and you will be sorely missed.
Rep Gray: Thank you very much. Thank you. I’ve teared up now. I told my district as I’ve been to meetings across the state that it’s been the greatest honor of my life to have been elected and to get to serve them for these past eight years. And it’s been the biggest privilege of my life to get to serve with you all, to get to know you. You have definitely all individually and collectively shaped who I am as a person, and so this has been bittersweet. I’ve been sitting here grinning in the last couple of minutes. Just this is the last time I’ll see this room from this vantage point. So it’s truly been an honor to serve with you all. Thank you. And we can’t quit yet. We actually have one more motion.
Sen Dismang: Yeah, the funny thing is, she looked at me earlier and said, “I’m not going to miss serving with you as chair.” I don’t know why.
Rep Gray: He’s really not exaggerating.
Sen Dismang: So with that, we do have several items that are held or that we passed over. And so, as you know, this is going to be our last meeting as we just talked about. And so those need to actually get referred to the Peer Budget Committee. And so the motion is, I move that all held items on today’s agenda be referred to JBC upon adoption on Friday of the subcommittee’s report by Council.
Rep Gray: Oh, yeah, I’m taking the motion. All right. I have a motion and a second. Is there any discussion on the motion? All right, seeing none. All in favor? Aye. Opposed, nay. The motion carries. And we are adjourned.